Modesto, CA — He could have called a female officer to speak with the elderly woman. He could have asked to speak with her over a cup of coffee. He could even have taken a walk to think about his next move. But, instead, Modesto officer John C. Lee pushed 67-year-old Patricia Mugraue to the floor, breaking her hip.
The incident happened in January of 2015 when police were called to Mugraue's home by a tenant who said her landlord would not let her into the home to retrieve her belongings.
The elderly Mugraue, who spent her working years in the Hershey chocolate factory, suffered from osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoporosis. She told Lee she was "sick" when he asked her how she was doing.
Mugruaue proceeded to explain to Lee why she wouldn't let the woman into her home. She said she felt like the right thing to do would be for the officer to go to the man's place of work, just around the corner, and ask him to come home, so he could be there while the woman retrieved her belongings from the room they were renting together.
Lee insisted, even though he isn't a lawyer, the woman had the legal right to enter the home and retrieve her belongings. But lawyers who spoke with the Sacramento Bee disagree. The SACBEE wrote:
In this instance, Mugrauer’s property rights were greater than the young woman’s, said Raquel Aldana, a professor and associate dean for faculty scholarship at the McGeorge School of Law. “This is a close case, but the entry is likely illegal,” she said in an email. “... The issue is not whether the tenant has a right to her property but under what circumstances she can have access.
Seems reasonable enough right? Get the man, let the woman in, wait while she gets her things, and then let the man go back to his place of work. After all, it was Mugraue's home, a fact which she conveyed to Lee, and insisted he should have a warrant before he or the woman be allowed to enter.
Not getting anywhere with the elderly woman, Lee then seemed to snap, threw open the door with his left arm, and pushed down the frail, elderly woman with his right arm, her head slamming to the ground.
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The fall took its toll on Mugraue, who had to be hospitalized, undergo several surgeries, and eventually decided to sue. She won her case in January of this year, settling with the City of Modesto for $750,000, but she never saw a penny of the funds. Patricia Mugraue died a week after the settlement at the age of 69.
Her sister LeAnne Stoops says being pushed by Lee, a fall which broke her hip, was what sent her on the steep hill of decline to her death. "She never fully recovered,” Stoops said. “I think this is what helped her pass. It was like a domino effect when she got injured from the officer.”
Stoops relayed her grief saying, "I'm brokenhearted...I’m sick to my stomach because she was getting her food from the food banks. She was getting her clothes from the clothes closet. She was so excited, (saying) ‘I think I’m going to get some money.’ The first thing she was going to do was buy some new clothes. And she never had a chance. It’s incredibly sad.”
Mugraue was not at fault, according to lawyers who spoke with SACBEE. The newspaper wrote:
UC Davis School of Law professor Floyd Feeney – who reviewed the body camera footage at The Bee’s request – said the officers should not have entered the home unless they had a warrant or there was an emergency. He said Patricia Mugrauer was calm and reasonable and simply setting the circumstances under which the young woman could retrieve her belongings. But it would not have mattered if she had been rude and slammed the door on the officers.
Officer Lee is still on the Modesto police force, and was not arrested for assaulting the elderly woman. In fact, not only did Lee push a woman down, causing her to break her hip, an injury her family says ultimately led to her death, he arrested her son, Wade Mugraue, even putting a gun/taser to his head during the arrest.
Wade Mugraue has not settled with Modesto and is still pursuing a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and Lee for illegally arresting him, and violating his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights in the process. As one headline put it, "One Push, One Million Dollar Settlement". But it should probably read, "Cop's Actions Leads To Elderly Woman's Death."